Dragons’ Den gives BDO wings

“If you want to innovate, there is no such thing as a bad idea”

The name Dragons’ Den is a reference to the British series of the same name and the Flemish television programme ‘Leeuwenkuil’, where up-and-coming entrepreneurial talents pitch their business idea before seasoned top entrepreneurs who are looking for a golden idea. “In essence, at BDO we follow the same concept,” explains Patrick Kestens. He is the former inspirational force behind the Corda INCubator, a breeding ground for innovative start-ups and scale-ups. For the last year or so, as Senior Manager Innovation & intrapreneurship, he has been the driving force behind the project to stimulate, support and develop our innovation capacity and internal entrepreneurship together with Hennie Herijgers, Partner and innovative power at BDO Belgium.

Space and support for creativity

The Dragons’ Den concept is brilliant in its simplicity: creating an environment in which employees can — and want to! — let their creativity run wild and present their innovative ideas without inhibitions. Each idea is tested by an independent innovation board in terms of feasibility and potential to create value. For BDO and for clients, directly or indirectly. Patrick: “Every one of our nearly 1,000 employees has the opportunity to pitch an idea. There is only one condition: if you decide to join in, you have to commit yourself to the project. On the other hand, depending on the phase in which the idea grows and becomes more concrete, they also get a budget and the time to put it into practice. Knowing that nobody — and this is extremely important — is being judged on the evaluation by the innovation board.”

Stopping is a possibility, failure is not. Carmaker Henry Ford was once fined because his first car made too much noise. Imagine that would have stopped him! Drawbacks are just a part of innovation and entrepreneurship. “More important than the value and success of an idea is the spirit of innovation that we aim to cultivate,” Hennie emphasises.

Successful innovation only works within the right culture. A culture that is open to creativity in an atmosphere of trust. The direct result — the innovation in itself — is important, but the underlying effects are at least as valuable. Hennie: “Innovation also gives energy. “It makes you look at things differently as an organisation, you are taking off the blinders. Anyone who never changes anything about a product, service or process risks dozing off. Put bluntly: ‘The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be enough for tomorrow’.” At the same time, stimulating and using talent increases employee involvement, reduces turnover and has a positive effect on job satisfaction, enthusiasm and wellbeing. Ultimately, it will also benefit your employer branding.

“There is only one condition: if you decide to join in, you have to commit yourself to the project.”

Patrick Kestens, Senior Manager Innovation & intrapreneurship BDO Belgium

Business Game in the Metaverse

Acquire and improve business skills such as teamwork, leadership and management competencies? No better way than with a business game… in the virtual world of the metaverse. The challenge? Set up a music club and run it for a month. Together with coaches, the participant runs a ‘real’ business: create a business plan, perform competitive analysis, draw up a marketing plan, and hire DJs and hosts. At the end of the game, real people (via their avatar) have to be convinced to visit the club.

The game enhances participants’ business skills and entrepreneurship. The metaverse provides a safe environment for this, because if you do not succeed, it simply suffices to delete the account. No financial pit, no reputation damage. The experience, positive or negative, is in any case a step forward in the professional career.


With the ESG Hub, we want to further support and accelerate the awareness and knowledge about sustainable business models or entrepreneurship. Many of our clients are at the beginning of the process of integrating sustainability into their strategy. They often wonder what ESG/sustainability/CSR actually means for their company or organisation and how to get started.

For example, our colleagues and clients can find all relevant information in one place, they can check which regulations they must comply with, find sector-oriented ESG focal points, carry out a maturity scan, etc. and get contact experts for all their questions. As the ESG Hub grows, it is supplemented with additional functionalities.

In short, the ESG Hub has a positive effect on the efficiency, scalability, accessibility, professionalism and impact of BDO as a (sustainability) advisor.

BDO Eyes

Managing and monitoring activities is a basic requirement for navigating cloudy waters. The resilience of organisations is only conceivable if decisions are based on reliable and available data. The solution? BDO Eyes!

BDO Eyes is a digital solution for the exploitation of data, fuelled by the cross-pollination of accounting and non-accounting sources. It is not limited to financial ratios, but offers a detailed picture of commercial and logistical activities. It also contains several hundred risk indicators and points to shortcomings in internal control.

The solution is innovative and future-oriented in a digital world and will support both BDO’s internal teams and clients who want to manage their business in an efficient and informed manner.

Never-ending story

An innovation round of Dragons’ Den has six phases and gates (from idea to review and pitch to development, evaluation and finalisation). Anyone who has an innovative idea and wants to develop it must defend their idea before a jury. If you win the trust of the innovation board, you will have the time, space and resources to develop your idea into a prototype one day a week and possibly even commercialise it. “We do not put pressure on employees to perform,” says Hennie. “It is a growth process in which all Managing Partners within BDO support innovation.”

In order to look beyond our own (unconscious) borders, we involve two external innovation advisors on the jury, tech entrepreneurs Jürgen Ingels and Louis Jonckheere. They assess the ‘potential’ of the projects as seasoned entrepreneurs and with an outside view. Patrick: “You have a good idea, you pitch it to the innovation board with external entrepreneurs and the next day you know whether you have a go or not, or where you still need to make adjustments. The innovation board with external entrepreneurs forms a sounding board and provides advice per phase in the process. At the end of last year, we completed the first series of our innovation programme with some promising innovations (also read the inserts). And in January 2023, we launched our second Dragons’ Den to achieve a continuous flow of innovation.”

Innovation is clearly not a one-off project, but more a never-ending story. It is an innovation model that organically grows, regulates and learns and that will eventually become part of the BDO DNA. In other words, Dragons’ Den will eventually make itself superfluous and merge with the organisation as a natural and self-evident part of the way everyone works and grows at BDO.

“More important than the value and success of the idea is the spirit of innovation we aim to cultivate.”

Hennie Herijgers, Partner and innovative power at BDO Belgium

Get started yourself! Eight lessons learnt

  • 1

    Encourage people to think outside the box
    Show your team that you value unconventional thinking. Remind them during brainstorming sessions that there are no bad ideas, that proposals can create relevant discussions and that suggestions for improvement are always welcome.

  • 2

    Be genuinely interested in the opinion of your people
    Motivate your team members to share their opinions on different challenges your company faces. Promote idea sharing, foster in-depth discussion and work together to come up with solutions to meet the challenges.

  • 3

    Create idea challenges
    Encourage everyone to share their ideas, challenge people and make them ‘eager’ to come up with proposals. Establish a committee of experts to evaluate the feasibility of each proposal. You can also apply gamification to make the competition more exciting for all participants.

  • 4

    Provide constructive feedback
    Don’t dismiss ideas too quickly. Discuss them with the rest of the team and see if you can improve them. If not, give constructive feedback and acknowledge the effort (and courage) your people showed introducing them.

  • 5

    Train your team to think like entrepreneurs
    When you encourage your employees to think like they own the company, great things can happen that lead to a real innovation mindset and culture.

  • 6

    Avoid unnecessary bureaucracy
    Bureaucracy creates an organisational red tape that slows down innovation. It creates obstacles for innovators and unjustified frustration. So, avoid it and support quick experiments at all times.

  • 7

    Discourage silos
    Innovation needs a group of diverse people who can offer new and unique perspectives on existing challenges. Encourage people from different functional teams to work together within a given period.

  • 8

    Remember to reward
    Building an innovation culture involves rewarding and recognising innovative behaviour. Celebrate innovative efforts and praise innovation teams for their excellent work.